U.S. Attorney Candidates: 4 Prosecutors With Illinois Ties Nominated To Succeed Fitzgerald

Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois listens during a news conference at the federal build
Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois listens during a news conference at the federal building in Chicago, Thursday, May 24, 2012, a day after he announced in a written statement he was resigning from the post he held for more than a decade. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

By James B. Kelleher

CHICAGO, Dec 3 (Reuters) - Four prosecutors with Illinois ties were recommended on Monday to President Barack Obama for U.S. attorney in Chicago succeeding Patrick Fitzgerald, who left this summer after a tenure that included sending two of the state's governors to federal prison.

The U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois will be expected to carry on the fight against Chicago's political corruption after Fitzgerald was brought in from New York more than a decade ago to get tough on local politicians.

Chicago's two U.S. Senators nominated Jonathan Bunge, Zachary Fardon, Lori Lightfoot and Gil Soffer for the job. All have served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the northern district of Illinois, according to a statement from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat.

"Each brings a range of legal and professional experience to the table as prosecutors, lawyers in private practice and managers of large organizations," said Durbin, who made the recommendation along with U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, a Republican. "Each can fill the big shoes left by Patrick Fitzgerald and lead the office with independence, integrity and distinction."

Fitzgerald, who stepped down June 30, began serving Sept. 1, 2001, just days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

In addition to terrorism cases, Fitzgerald aggressively pursued corruption cases and sent Illinois governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich to prison.

Jeffrey Cramer, a former assistant U.S. attorney under Fitzgerald who is now head of the Chicago Office of Kroll Advisory Solutions, an investigative and security firm, said political corruption would continue to be a focus of the job.

"It is systemic in Illinois politics and how things are done in Illinois, and I'm unfortunately confident that there will be more indictments coming of politicians. It's just the way things happen in Chicago," Cramer said.

Durbin provided the following information about the candidates:

* Bunge, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP who focuses on corporate litigation and investigations, helped start and run a public integrity unit at the Illinois attorney general's office.

* Fardon heads the Chicago litigation department of Latham & Watkins LLP. At the Northern District of Illinois, he worked on the trial team for Ryan's prosecution.

* Lightfoot, a partner at Mayer Brown LLP, focuses on commercial litigation and "white collar matters." She oversaw a 100-person section of the Chicago Police Department that investigated police misconduct.

* Soffer, the only Illinois native of the four, is a partner and co-chair of the white collar practice at Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP. He served as an associate deputy attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Gary Shapiro is serving as acting U.S. attorney until a permanent one is nominated by Obama and confirmed by the Senate. (Additional reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Greg McCune)